SUMMARY: Guarding Minds at Work is a free resource to help you and your organization improve psychological health and safety in your workplace. It consists of a set of self-serve tools to assess and address factors known to impact employee psychological health and safety and evaluate the effectiveness of these efforts.

This guide, developed with support from the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, can help you get buy-in and commitment from workplace stakeholders through thoughtful preparation and a plan for assessing and acting on the results.

Get buy-in

Each of the following points can help you be prepared to respond to questions and concerns from senior leaders in management or labour. This is important in order to get buy-in and commitment to proceed with a plan to address psychological health and safety in your workplace. Others have found that without this prior approval, the process can be halted by concerned leaders who are not clear on risks and benefits.

Consider the costs and benefits of addressing psychological health and safety in your workplace.

  • The economic and social benefits of a psychologically healthy and safe workplace can include sustainability of an engaged workforce and a healthy bottom line.
  • For help in establishing costs see Making the Business Case as well as The Business Case for Psychological Health and Safety, which provides more information about benefits.
  • A strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis can be a useful tool for decision-making for all sorts of situations. Free information for conducting a SWOT analysis is provided courtesy of Businessballs Free Work and Life Learning.
  • Many organizations or departments will report that they are very busy, and may believe that they do not have enough time or resources to invest in this.
  • Simply opening up dialogue about the Guarding Minds at Work psychosocial factors may result in positive changes, even without a formal implementation process. Larger initiatives and programs are not always required.

Be prepared to respond to concerns that addressing psychological health and safety will open up a "can of worms" or invite unreasonable criticism of the workplace.

  • Avoiding or denying issues related to psychological health and safety in the workplace may allow problems to worsen until they become a crisis.
  • Proactively considering psychological health and safety issues can help prevent time-consuming and morale-dampening situations.
  • The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace provides an evidence-based framework to support taking action and helping avoid risk to employee psychological safety.

Estimate the time and effort required to do the assessment, analyze results and implement change. The size and scope of your plan will be relative to the complexity of your organization and the initiatives you choose to implement. Some organizations have completed all tasks over a couple of weeks, while others have required several months.

Estimate the time your organization may need for the following tasks:

  • Develop the business case, including baseline measurements.
  • Secure senior leadership commitment, including labour and management.
  • Create a communication plan addressing potential concerns.
  • Set up the assessment process, choosing how and what will be measured.
  • Conduct the assessment using Guarding Minds at Work. (This is probably the easiest part).
  • Analyze the results of the Guarding Minds at Work assessment tools.
  • Communicate results, celebrate successes, and identify areas for improvement.
  • Engage the workforce in developing action plans. This participation is critical to success.
  • Engage the workforce in implementing the plans. This needs to become part of day to day routine.
  • Measure outcomes. Did the plans achieve the goals that were set?
  • Take corrective action including additional plans or modifications.
  • Establish a process of continual improvement. Consider re-administering the survey every couple of years.
  • Ongoing time allocation, e.g. even one hour every two weeks per team, should be considered to allow for an ongoing process of sustaining psychological health and safety in the workplace.

Consider competing demands and priorities. Addressing psychological health and safety is always important. Like other health and safety approaches, it is an ongoing process, but if this is a new approach in your organization, you may wish to consider the following:

  • Organizations may choose to begin with only looking at one of the factors identified by the Guarding Minds at Work assessment tools and known to impact psychological health and safety. One example is workload management. Workload management is not about doing less work, but doing work with less stress. This can open up dialogue, identify solutions, reduce stress-related absenteeism, and help create an atmosphere for continued improvement.
  • Leading-edge organizations that conscientiously choose best practices for continual improvement can add a Psychological Health and Safety Management System to existing policies and processes.
  • If you have a poisoned or toxic workplace, it is important to put safeguards in place to help ensure that no further harm is done to psychological health and safety. This could include immediately addressing issues of violence, harassment, bullying, or discrimination as identified by the Guarding Minds at Work survey or that are already known to the organization.
  • Be transparent about accepting responsibility for the current situation, and the need to make changes. By accepting responsibility, you can reduce the need for others to justify or defend their current behaviours or positions, and open the door to a new way of doing business.
  • Employers of choice or those who have already won recognition for their healthy workplaces can use the heightened focus on psychological health and safety to continue to energize and motivate the workforce.
  • If there has been a recent traumatic incident in the workplace, being open about the effects of the trauma and providing effective supports could be a first response. This can also be a window of opportunity to engage staff in building protective factors around psychological health and safety in the workplace. It will be necessary to be sensitive to the current ability of those who are affected by the trauma to engage in this process, but in many cases it could be helpful in the recovery process. See also Impairment and Substance, Grief Response, Suicide Response and Mental Health First Aid.
  • Consider organizational readiness for change. There may be internal or external factors that enhance or impede action, such as a pending merger or major reorganization.
  • If there are current labour disputes this may not be the ideal time to begin a process where management and the union are expected to co-operate closely.
  • If there are impending difficult business issues such as shutdowns, layoffs, terminations or deployments, the focus should be on limiting the risk related to the impact of these issues. In these situations, employees who are left in the workplace may face increased workplace demands that can make it more difficult for them to also become involved in the development of new processes. This should not prevent the workplace from zeroing in on how the particular psychological health and safety issues currently impact the workforce (e.g. change management, grief at the loss of co-workers or increased workload pressures).
  • Engage external experts, if appropriate. Guarding Minds at Work is a free, self-serve resource, but some organizations prefer an external consultant to assist. Existing knowledge and expertise may reduce overall effort and time.
  • Show that this is a priority to the organization by obtaining written commitment from senior leadership (labour and management), in the form of a directive or policy statement, in support of addressing psychological health and safety in your workplace.

Develop and communicate the assessment plan

  • Identify one or more champions in the ranks of senior leadership who have the ability to influence and mobilize resources and commitment throughout the process.
  • Establish a psychological health and safety working group comprised of key stakeholders who will help drive the process.
    • These stakeholders should come from all levels of management, and include employees and employee representatives.
    • Where possible, involve a representative from each department, such as human resources, occupational health and safety, or finance.
    • Include someone with communication skills in the working group.
    • Include someone with authority to access organizational data to help inform working group decisions.
    • The mandate of the working group is to plan the assessment, analysis, and communication about the process. They would help steer the planning, implementation, evaluation and continual improvement stages.
    • Finalize a timeframe and budget for the stages of planning, implementation and evaluation of your psychological health and safety initiative.
    • Involve key stakeholders in discussion about the working group’s approach, getting critical feedback from employees, union, and management before communicating the plan to the rest of the workforce.
  • Clearly communicate your plan. Explicitly state potential concerns and explain how your approach will address these. For messaging ideas, see Commitment and Leadership. Getting everyone on the same page in this way has been known to begin the process of improving psychological health and safety, even before any other actions have been taken. 
  • Determine who needs to receive the communication and how best to deliver it.
    • Ensure you communicate with all workplace stakeholders including senior management, union representatives, line managers, occupational health and safety representatives, human resource professionals, your employees and any other individuals who play a role in the workplace.
    • Provide written communication to those without access to a computer.
    • Consider holding meetings to discuss the process in person or instruct each department or team leader to hold a discussion after they have been thoroughly briefed.
    • Consider any other challenges or limitations, which may include employees working offsite, vision or other impairments, vacation, on leave, etc.

Choosing Guarding Minds a Work assessment tools

  • You can conduct the online employee survey and/or bring together a team to complete the organizational review. See GM@W Assessment Resources. You have access to two major forms of assessment:

    1. GM@W Employee Survey. This is a completely automated resource that allows you to register and send out a link of the survey to every employee. Employee identity is kept confidential and the aggregated results provide a snapshot of how the organization is rated by employees on measures that are known to impact psychological health and safety in the workplace. See GM@W Frequently Asked Questions for more information about confidentiality. You can print a copy of the Survey Questions to review.
    2. GM@W Organizational Review is completed manually, usually by a leadership team. It walks the users through a series of questions about existing conditions, requires an analysis of data, and helps educate about the factors affecting psychological health and safety in the workplace. You can read more about How to Get Started or go directly to download the Organizational Review Worksheets. The results of this review can be useful to compare leadership perspectives with those of employees' who have completed the survey. The organizational review is also helpful for small business owners, team leaders or any organization where an employee survey is not possible or practical.

Conducting the organizational review

There are generally two ways to conduct the GM@W Organizational Review:

  1. Assign the review process to department or division heads, and have multiple reviews done by respective management teams.
  2. Conduct one organization-wide review involving either just the business owner or other management personnel. This strategy is particularly well suited to small organizations.

Conducting the GM@W Organizational Review involves:

Completing the GM@W Organizational Review may only take a few hours once all relevant data has been compiled. The resulting scores can be entered into the Selection of GM@W Suggested Actions form.

Conducting the employee survey

  • Begin by registering for the survey tools using the GM@W Dashboard Login. This registration is necessary to receive a link that can be sent to your employees. Note: While the individual who is administering the survey must register, each participant who is taking the survey does not need to register.
  • Before sending the link to the survey, you may want to provide an opportunity for staff to ask questions and clarify the process and intent.
  • The form letter Introducing GM@W  found after you login can be used or modified to develop your own initial communication with staff about the survey. This communication advises staff that you will be sending them a link to the survey and provides information about confidentiality, data security and how the information will be communicated and used.
  • Once the survey is activated, the individual who registered will be sent an email that has a link to the survey that can be forwarded to employees.
  • To encourage participation in the survey, some organizations provide incentives. One organization offered a pizza party for the department that had the highest number of respondents, and provided time during working hours (usually less than 20 minutes) to complete the survey.

Address employee privacy concerns

  • Employees should understand that:
    • Participation in this data collection project is voluntary.
    • They may choose not to participate.
    • The choice not to participate will have no adverse effects on employment.
    • Each employee has anonymity when completing and returning his or her submission.
    • No personal or identifying information will be gathered. Survey respondents will only be asked about their experiences and perceptions about their workplace from the perspective of their current position. 
    • If an employee chooses to participate and later changes his or her mind, he or she can stop completing the survey at any time and the responses will not be saved.
    • Any information that is obtained during this data collection project will be kept strictly confidential.
    • Only aggregate data with 10 or more survey responses will be analyzed and reported; individual-level data will not be accessed. If there are fewer than 10 respondents to the survey, no data will be analyzed or reported.

Choosing whether to segment the employee survey

Once you have signed into the Dashboard, you will have the opportunity to choose whether to segment your survey results. Some organizations may wish to know more about the psychosocial factor profile for a particular department, employee group or geographical location. The GM@W survey can be segmented to permit analysis of particular areas and compare this with the overall profile for the organization.

  • When choosing whether to segment survey results, there are pros and cons to including segmentation question options. As noted previously, GM@W survey results will not be reported for any category that has less than 10 respondents to protect the anonymity of employees.
  • It is important to consider whether survey results can be accurately interpreted or actions effectively supported when excessive segmentation occurs.
  • If you do decide to segment, a guiding principle is to choose the fewest segmentation question options to provide valuable information for your workplace. The following table describes the pros and cons of segmentation.
How To Use GMAW Image

How To Use GMAW Image

Segmentation question options

Analyze results and engage the workforce

Once you have closed the survey, a GM@W Overview Report will be automatically generated. This is available to you when you log back in to the Dashboard on the Guarding Minds at Work website.

Refer to Selection of GM@W Suggested Actions for information on how to interpret the results from the survey and organizational review.

  • Look at how your employees rated the psychosocial factors in comparison with the normative sample of working Canadians. The GM@W Overview Report will identify areas of concern and strength ranging from "Serious Concerns" (red) to "Relative Strengths" (green). Lower scores indicate greater levels of concern.
  • The following are some tips to help you gain a better understanding of the results from the GM@W Survey Results and/or the GM@W Organizational Review Results:
    • Level I: Start with the factor(s) for which "Serious Concerns" have been flagged.
    • Level II: Select the factor(s) for which "Significant Concerns" have been flagged.
    • Level III: Select the factor(s) for which "Minimal Concerns" have been flagged.
    • Level IV: If you do not have any factor(s) with Significant, Moderate or Minimal Concerns, you are to be commended! However, this may be the time to develop a plan of action to build on your areas of "Relative Strength."
  • Within each level, place the greatest priority on:
    • Psychological Protection and Psychological Support, which are the two Psychosocial Factors that can contain critical items.
    • Factors that are particularly relevant to key incidents or events (e.g., discrimination, harassment, unfair treatment due to mental illness, etc.).
    • Factors that are particularly relevant to changes occurring within your organization or work unit (e.g., if there have been recent changes in leadership, you may want to select Clear Leadership & Expectations).
    • Factors that disproportionately impact your organization financially.
  • Analyze the results to consider which actions and responses your organization will take. There are several possible approaches:
    • There are many considerations that can guide the decision as to where to start taking action. In reviewing the results of your existing data, the GM@W Organizational Review or GM@W Employee Survey, it is important to first identify any safety concerns and issues such as bullying, harassment, violence or discrimination that should be addressed first.
    • The next step may be to identify whether there are any issues relating to human rights, health, or safety.
    • You could also start with psychosocial factors that have been identified as potential areas of strength. This can allow you to build on good work already done on those areas of strengths, understanding that many of the psychosocial factors can be protective even in the face of other unavoidable stressors.
    • You may wish to address psychosocial factors where perceptions of management (as per the GM@W Organizational Review) differ significantly from employee perspective (as per the GM@W Employee Survey).
    • Finally, consider engaging employee feedback and guidance on the psychosocial factor(s) that they perceive to be most important through focus groups, suggestion boxes or staff meetings. You can share the results of all factors with short descriptions, which are provided below, or provide a select number that you want to focus on and have the employees prioritize.

Share results

Many organizations will find that they have survey results indicating potential areas of strength. Celebrating these areas helps reinforce the employee contributions to a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. 

It is important to show organizational commitment by sharing some plan of action with all staff soon after the results are in.

The communication should also include intended outcomes and improvements for the future. Clearly communicate that the workplace will not become ideal overnight but will continue to focus on improving psychological health and safety and requires the contribution of all employees.

  • Engage all staff and stakeholders in helping to determine how to make positive impacts on psychological health and safety in the workplace. Each employee has a responsibility to contribute, since how they interact with others has a direct effect on psychological health and safety.
  • Engage work teams in discussing and developing plans of action. Ensure that these plans include a method to evaluate results.

Consider a range of appropriate actions

This can help guide teams who will engage in developing and implementing action plans. By choosing a range of appropriate actions that meet the both the organization's needs and the employees' needs, you can ensure that the results will be mutually beneficial.

For example, when selecting appropriate actions and responses, consider the following (adapted from the Selection of Effective Actions: Applying a Quality Framework):

  • Appropriateness: Is the action or response appropriate given the needs and resources of your particular organization?
  • Acceptability: Is the action or response acceptable to all relevant workplace stakeholders, including management, employees, union and clients?
  • Accessibility: Is the action or response available and accessible to all relevant workplace stakeholders (e.g. language or geographic location)?
  • Effectiveness: Is the action or response consistent with evidence that indicates that the intended consequence is what your organization requires?
  • Efficiency: Can the action or response be implemented in a cost-effective and timely fashion?
  • Safety: Could the action or response present an unintended health or safety risk?

Consider a policy review

Your analysis of the results may indicate the necessity to develop or refine policies within the organization. This relates to organizational practices and processes that are part of the day-to-day experience in the workplace. Elements and Priorities Towards a Psychologically Safer Workplace can help you to do this.

  • Create a high level strategy for what is practical for your organization to focus on in the near future.

    • "To address psychological health and safety we will begin by focusing on management training."
    • "To address psychological health and safety we will begin by raising mental health awareness."
    • "To address psychological health and safety we will begin with a policy review."
    • "To address psychological health and safety we will begin by holding focus groups."

Suggested responses by factor

Suggested Responses for each factor, a brief description and a link to the Action Planning Worksheet by factor can be downloaded from the Guarding Minds at Work website. You will find actions and responses that can be implemented with a minimal investment of resources or cost to the organization. Lack of budgetary funds does not have to prevent you from moving forward with meaningful actions and responses.

Plan for continual improvement

  • Consider including in all business discussions about new or revised policies, procedures, programs and interactions, the question:

    "How might this impact psychological health and safety?"

    This may allow you to permanently embed psychological health and safety considerations into your workplace without devoting a lot of time to an add-on program.
  • Execute the plans developed by work teams.
  • Measure results and look for opportunities for corrective action or improvement. See Evaluation and Corrective Action.
  • Continue the cycle for a method of continual improvement. See Continual Improvement.
  • Take advantage of the Evaluation Worksheets provided for each of the factors.

Guarding Minds at Work was commissioned by the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace and is available at no cost through the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. It is owned by the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction.  © 2012 Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA). All rights reserved.